More damage at Japan nuclear plant

KASHIWAZAKI, Japan – A long list of problems – including radiation leaks, burst pipes and fires – came to light Tuesday at the world’s largest nuclear power plant, a day after it was hit by a powerful earthquake, adding to concerns over the delay in reporting them.

In addition, the radioactive water leak was 50 percent bigger than announced Tuesday, the power company running the facility said today, but still below danger levels.

“They raised the alert too late. I have sent stern instructions that such alerts must be raised seriously and swiftly,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “Those involved should reflect on their actions.”

Today, the Kashiwazaki mayor ordered the nuclear plant in northern Japan closed until safety can be confirmed.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa is the world’s largest nuclear plant in power output capacity.

The power plant suffered broken pipes, water leaks and spills of radioactive waste when it was hit by the earthquake Monday, the plant’s operator said.

Officials initially said about 315 gallons of water containing radioactive material leaked into sea, but today they said the leak was 50 percent bigger.

Other problems included about 100 barrels of radioactive waste knocked over in a storage facility; a duct knocked out of place in a major vent; a possible leak of radioactive cobalt-60 and chromium-51 from five of the plant’s seven reactors; and water leaks inside buildings housing all seven reactors.

Signs of problems, however, came first not from officials, but in a plume of smoke that rose up when the quake triggered a small fire at an electrical transformer.

Problems started being announced only 12 hours later after the magnitude 6.8 temblor.

Later Tuesday, officials said 50 cases of “malfunctioning and trouble” had been found.

Officials said there was no harm to the environment, but acknowledged it took a day to discover that the dozens of drums holding low-level nuclear waste were overturned, some with the lids open.

Kensuke Takeuchi, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant, called the malfunctions “minor troubles.”

“Whenever there is an earthquake, the first thing we worry about is the nuclear plant. I worry about whether there will be a fire or something,” said Kiyokazu Tsunajima, a tailor who sat outside on his porch with his family, afraid an aftershock might collapse his damaged house.

“It’s almost the summer swimming season,” Ikuko Sato said. “I wonder if it’ll be safe to go in the water.”

Japan Coast Guard

Smoke rises from a burning electrical transformer near one of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant’s four reactors Monday after an earthquake caused a fire at the plant in northwestern Japan. A number of other problems at the plant emerged Tuesday.

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